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By Liz Warren-Pederson


An artist's rendering of the proposed solar-powered bullet train between Phoenix and Tucson. UA students are analyzing the conditions under which very high-speed, solar-powered rail between the cities would make economic sense.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed solar-powered bullet train
between Phoenix and Tucson. UA students are analyzing the
conditions under which very high-speed, solar-powered rail between
the cities would make economic sense.

A multifaceted team of graduate students from disciplines across the UA climbed aboard a solar-powered bullet train between Tucson and Phoenix this semester—metaphorically, that is.

The team is analyzing the conditions under which very high-speed, solar-powered rail between the two cities would make economic sense. The project blends solar energy and green technologies with high-speed trains and public transit, giving the students a chance to research several fields that are creating headlines today in science, technology, and public policy.

The team consists of Eller MBA students along with master’s students in planning, civil engineering and materials science engineering, with economist and energy expert Paul Portney, economicsprofessor and former dean of the Eller College, as faculty advisor. This multidisciplinary collaboration is intended to bring a range of skills and perspectives together in examining a compelling business case.

Members of the graduate student team (left to right: Kevin Do (Materials Science Engineering),  Chengdong Cai (Civil Engineering), Kevin Pieters (Planning), and Matt Novak (Materials Science Engineering). Not pictured: Eller MBA students Jeff Gerber and Allison Duffy.

Members of the graduate student team (left to
right: Kevin Do (Materials Science Engineering),
Chengdong Cai (Civil Engineering), Kevin Pieters
(Planning), and Matt Novak (Materials Science
Engineering). Not pictured: Eller MBA students Jeff
Gerber and Allison Duffy.

Over the course of the semester, the team will produce a spreadsheet model that can be used by SolarBullet.org, the citizens’ group leading the campaign to build a sun-powered bullet train that could link Tucson and Phoenix in as little as 33 minutes. When this tool is complete, the campaign will be able to generate and compare different scenarios as they build the business and technical case for the train.

“This project is a small public-private partnership of our own,” said Tucson residentTed L. Hullar, former chancellor of the University of California, Davis and chair of the SolarBullet campaign.

In addition to thanking the Eller College for its leadership in bringing this team together, Hullar also expressed gratitude to UA professor Joe Simmons, head of theDepartment of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy. Simmons recruited two master’s-level engineering students for the team and helped to obtain the funding that made the project possible.